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A Glass Dream. Byzantine Wall Mosaics and the Alchemy of Making

Liz James, University of Sussex

May 12, 2022 · 5:00 pm6:00 pm · A71 Louis A. Simpson Building and Zoom

Weitzmann Lecture sponsored by the Department of Art & Archaeology
Figure 37 Michael’s orb, apse, Church of the Panaghia Angeloktistos, Kiti, Cyprus, conventionally dated to the sixth century. The archangel’s fingers are just visible behind the globe, and the chequerboarding on his forearm serves to create a sense of depth and shading from a distance. The tesserae are carefully laid around his forefinger, overlapping with the outlining of the globe Source: © The Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Photo: David Winfield

‘Quality’ is one of those words that implicitly underpins a canon or canons of art history. Mosaics – of any period – are rarely included in the canons of art history, and mosaic as a medium is perceived as lurking somewhere between ‘art’ and ‘craft’. These two sentences are intimately linked, for how ‘quality’ is defined in wall mosaics is a bit of a black hole too. It has been implicit in some studies of medieval mosaics – some mosaics are said to be good and some bad – but the terms of reference remain opaque. So I’m going to turn here to looking at some of the ways in which quality in medieval mosaics has been discussed, and to reflect on the questions these raise. Hiding in the background is the much bigger questions – what is ‘quality’ in art and does it actually matter?

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